You should try to make room in your life for awe. Not walking around a slack-jawed romantic, but making an honest effort, when you’re phone-drunk and numb, to find something to do that might shock you into a sudden appreciation of being alive. These experiences aren’t always easy or available, and there’s no one thing that works every time. Sometimes I go out to edge of Lake Michigan and watch the gulls and terns dive for fish, and I feel something in me resetting, and at others the water seems smoother and grayer than usual, and I think about stupid things: decade-old conversations that didn’t go well, the narrow and frustrating limits of my ability. My depression deepens, and when I return home, I’m more irritable than when I left. Lots of activities fall in between. I went to a sprawling botanic garden last weekend. It was fine; the wide varieties of conifers were cool. It was probably a better way to spend an afternoon than sitting at my desk and sighing.
Like everything else, basketball satisfies me irregularly. There are nights when a decent Hornets-Heat game is an oasis. There are nights when Sixers-Celtics makes me impossibly bored. The NBA season is long and it’s hard to tell at times if you are putting up with it, or if it is carrying you. But I continually return to basketball because it is one of the few bottomless sources of awe in my life. I like when a guard drives under the basket, pretends like he’s dribbling back out, and turns over his shoulder to launch a push shot, and I like when a team unexpectedly crosses the threshold from pretty good to dangerous and real. Basketball reliably provides this kind of stuff, if you can give yourself over to it. It makes you laugh and it makes you feel small. Sometimes this is what you need.
By the time we had played a few games of these NBA Finals, it no longer seemed improbable that Toronto would win. The Warriors were banged up, and the Raptors were simply better than the bodies Golden State had available to them. Klay Thompson pulled a hamstring in Game 3 and sat out of Game 4. Kevin Durant didn’t return until Game 5 and then lasted only 12 minutes before he left the floor with an even worse injury than he was already suffering from. The Raptors were, the whole time, failing to inspire the typical condescending adjectives we lend to underdogs. They weren’t tough or poised or smart or scrappy—or rather, they were all of those things, but primarily they were killers. They lost a couple games, but they never panicked. They wore Golden State down. Toward the end of the series, they felt inevitable.
But the specific way they finished the job was ridiculous. Kyle Lowry—a nervous breakdown in a borderline professional athlete’s body, and also an All-Star—came out chucking and scored 15 points in the opening quarter. Down the stretch, Fred VanVleet, who recently had a child you might have heard about, calmly called for screens until he got the switch he wanted, then sent his matchup staggering backwards as he drained three after three. Kawhi Leonard was okay, but conspicuously quiet by his standards. The Raptors lingered about five points behind the Warriors for long stretches, and I kept wondering when Kawhi was going to seize both the moment and the lead. That didn’t happen. Pascal Siakam hit the biggest shot of the game: a 13-foot floater that he outwitted Draymond Green to create the necessary space for. The dude averaged 7.3 points per game last season.
The reason lots of NBA fans have resented the Warriors over the past few years is that their title runs felt preordained. It’s been remarked upon to death, but: a 73-win team that lost a championship by the margin of a miraculous chasedown block and a heroic step-back three added one of the best 15 players of all-time to their roster. The 2017 and 2018 Finals were joyless exercises; it wasn’t anything like a fair fight. Maybe this one wasn’t either. The Warriors finished with neither Klay Thompson nor Kevin Durant on the floor. Let’s not play dumb: the Raptors came out on top partly due to attrition. And in their diminished and eventually defeated state, the Warriors rendered themselves more likeable than they’ve been in a long while. They had no business not getting blown off their home floor. Instead they demonstrated the depth of their remaining talent and reserve. They had half a shot to win a series they had every right to curl up and die in the middle of. The Raptors squashed them, but it was hard work.
There’s much more to say, and I question the utility of any of it. Perhaps it’s more effective to go small against the backdrop of something so obviously colossal. Here’s something sportswriters hesitate to put in print, because it undermines our authority, makes it seem like any dope with a laptop could do this: I have been so wonderfully surprised by these Finals. It’s going to take some time to process all the peculiar events that made it so wild and exciting, but the feeling is simple. I’m glad I was here for this, and that it was here for me.